A Reboot of Comedy Classics

Host, Dave Schwensen, and his friends Kelly, Tom, and Logan listen to comedy albums from the 1950s, ‘60s, or ‘70s. They take a look at the life of the comedian as well as the cultural relevance of the album then and now. Sit back, relax, and get ready to laugh!

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The Funniest Woman in the World, Moms Mabley

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In this episode of What’s So Funny! we are listening to the one and only Moms Mabley and her 1970 album “Live at Sing Sing.”

Jackie Moms Mabley is not only known as the funniest woman in the world, but she is also known as the first black stand up comedienne, the first black woman to take the stage at the Apollo theater, and the first black woman to play at Carnegie Hall. Her career spans over 30 years, and she really knows how to put on a show. Listen in to find out what it’s like to be Live in Sing Sing!

The album we are listening to today is Live at Sing Sing, written and performed by Moms Mabley, Mercury Records, 1970

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Logan: Instagram: @loganrishaw, Twitter: @logansaidthis

Speaker 1:
Welcome to What's So Funny? A comedy podcast where we talk about some of the most influential and controversial comedy albums from the 1950s, 60s and 70s. Sit back, relax, and get ready to laugh. Here's your host, Dave Schwensen.

Dave Schwensen:
Hi, I'm your host, Dave Schwensen.

Kelly Thewlis:
And I'm Kelly Thewlis.

Dave Schwensen:
Well, you beat me to that.

Kelly Thewlis:
Oh, sorry!

Dave Schwensen:
I was going to introduce you, Kelly. Well, nice! Just jump right in and feel right at home.

Kelly Thewlis:
Just jumped in. I feel good. We've been doing this podcast for a while. I feel comfortable.

Dave Schwensen:
I guess so. Well, it's good to see you. Hey Kelly, what's been going on since the last time I saw you?

Kelly Thewlis:
Oh! Well, I got married.

Dave Schwensen:
Well, congratulations!

Kelly Thewlis:
Thank you. Thank you.

Dave Schwensen:
I guess you should have told the rest of us so we could have maybe put together a little surprise cake or a gift or something like that, right?

Kelly Thewlis:
Well, the only gift that I want is for people to like and share this podcast.

Dave Schwensen:
Oh my gosh. Wow. Do you have a writer over there or what?

Kelly Thewlis:
Queen of promo here.

Dave Schwensen:
Well, that's why you're my favorite co-host.

Kelly Thewlis:
Oh, thank you. You're my favorite host.

Dave Schwensen:
And that's our show. Thank you very much.

Kelly Thewlis:
Thank you very much.

Dave Schwensen:
Well, it's good to see you. I'm glad you're back here.

Kelly Thewlis:
Awe, thank you. What's been going on with you, Dave?

Dave Schwensen:
I'm just getting close to the end of the year doing comedy workshops. I don't know. We'll start planning for next year. Start getting the schedule together for that.

Kelly Thewlis:
That is very real. You got to start hustling.

Dave Schwensen:
Out there spreading laughter.

Kelly Thewlis:
Mm-hmm (affirmative). Spreading joy and laughter.

Dave Schwensen:
Speaking of spreading joy and laughter, you know who our subject is today? Our featured comedian?

Kelly Thewlis:
I do, and I'm so excited to talk about her. She's a legend, and I didn't know very much about her.

Dave Schwensen:
I don't think a lot of people do.

Kelly Thewlis:
No.

Dave Schwensen:
And we're talking about Moms Mabley.

Kelly Thewlis:
That's right, Moms Mabley. Jackie "Moms" Mabley.

Dave Schwensen:
Yeah. She really is a groundbreaking comedian, and really an influence on a lot of the comics that came after her. I don't think a lot of our younger listening audience would know who Moms Mabley is.

Kelly Thewlis:
I don't think so, but she definitely influenced a lot. Eddie Murphy came out and said that he just right up stole her act for Nutty Professor. You can see her influence all over in so many comedians. She's really influenced a lot of people. And she's that classic story of overnight success, where she grinded and grinded for 20 years and all of a sudden-

Dave Schwensen:
20? Like 30 or 40 years.

Kelly Thewlis:
30, 40 years, you're right. And all of a sudden she was a hit.

Dave Schwensen:
Yeah. Well, let's just get right into this. I want to play some Moms Mabley for our listeners to get an idea of what she does because I'll be honest, sometimes she's hard to understand.

Kelly Thewlis:
She's very hard to understand at times. She's actually, I read an article from Ebony magazine saying that her voice sounds like a truck of gravel being poured onto a tin roof.

Dave Schwensen:
That's a perfect description.

Kelly Thewlis:
Yeah.

Dave Schwensen:
Let's go into this first clip. Kelly, you want to introduce it for us?

Kelly Thewlis:
Yes. This is from her album Live at Sing Sing. She recorded it in 1960s and went out in 1970 it's one of 20 albums that she had. She was the queen of party albums. Yeah, this one, she would perform at Sing Sing every year. She did it for about 10 years, performing to just thousands and thousands of hardcore prisoners.

Dave Schwensen:
Yeah. I wonder if everyone realizes what Sing Sing is. It's like Alcatraz.

Kelly Thewlis:
Yeah, it's similar.

Dave Schwensen:
It's like a hardcore prison where these hardcore prisoners go in there forever.

Kelly Thewlis:
This is this little old lady who just won their hearts. She was accepted as one of them. She actually called them all Moms' children. She went there every year for Christmas and just made them happy. So this first clip that we're going to listen to is the intro of the album where she's actually playing with the warden a little.

Dave Schwensen:
All right, let's take a listen. This is Moms Mabley Live at Sing Sing.

Clip 1 Speaker1:
(Comedy Clip) And now without further ado, American records rang to you live from Sing Sing prison, the funniest lady in the world. Jackie "Moms" Mabley.

Moms Mabley:
(Comedy Cliop) Hello, dahlings. Oh, I've got to make an excuse for not coming up when Mom was supposed to. Some two men brought a disease over here in this country and I got that blue. Honey, I was sick. Oh, the doctor come to see me and I said, "Do something for me, honey. I'm dying." He said, "Mom." I said, "I can't hear nothing doctor, do something for me please." He said, "Mom, just drop your drawers." But first children, I want to thank this wonderful man that made it possible for Mom to be up here today and that's Warden Lehman. Now, warden come out here a minute, son. Come on out, baby!

Moms Mabley:
(Comedy Clip) Thank you so much for bringing me up here. All of these is Moms' children and I brought something for you: two of Moms' latest album. One call "Abraham, Martin, and John" and the other one is called, "What Generation Gap?" Now you just go home and put them on your machine and laugh yourself to death because they're funny.

Clip 1 Warden:
(Comedy Clip) My only concern is to have the men enjoy the show. That was what we started out for.

Moms Mabley:
(Comedy Clip)If they don't stand up and laugh they going to do some funny things shutting down I'll tell you that much. Children, I feel safer than I've felt in a long time because baby, it is rough out there. You know, a little boy 10 years old, walked up to Mom and said, "Stick them up." I say, "You too a little son to be carrying on like that." He said, "Mom, I don't want that damn job, give me some money."

Dave Schwensen:
Moms Mabley Live at Sing Sing prison. That's one way to get the prisoners on your side, bring up the warden.

Kelly Thewlis:
Right and wish-

Dave Schwensen:
And tell him to laugh himself to death.

Kelly Thewlis:
Laugh himself to death. I don't even think he got it. The warden just didn't [crosstalk 00:08:13]. He's just like, I just hope the prisoners are happy.

Dave Schwensen:
Yeah, it doesn't sound like it. The one thing I want to talk about Moms I want to get into her background a little too. I do want to say it is kind of hard to understand her.

Kelly Thewlis:
Yes. It is.

Dave Schwensen:
In case anyone's listening and they think, well what exactly did she say? Well, we don't really know either.

Kelly Thewlis:
You have to really pay attention to understand her, not just her voice, the difficulty with her voice, but also the double meaning in her words.

Dave Schwensen:
Yes. And you did describe her voice correctly, Kelly when you talked about that. Moms Mabley was very visual. Now we're listening to her from her album and I know there's video clips out there. You can look at her. She's a very colorful person with all her flowery dress and she wore like a frumpy looking hat but she performed with no teeth.

Kelly Thewlis:
Yeah, that's right.

Dave Schwensen:
She took her teeth out.

Kelly Thewlis:
Yeah. She was very opposite from some performers at the time. I feel like that era was the time of the soft focus on the starlets and there she was-

Dave Schwensen:
Yeah! You wanted to look glamorous for Hollywood and here Moms Mabley who could look glamorous when she's offstage.

Kelly Thewlis:
Absolutely. She's actually known for that offstage she looked completely different.

Dave Schwensen:
Yes. But before she went on, she dressed as this character, this old woman and she would take out her teeth and she would just have gums in her mouth. But it was very funny. Like I said, she's very visual. So when she would come out and call the prisoners, her audiences, my children it was like their mom. She got the name Mom, by the way, Moms because the way she did take care of everybody

Kelly Thewlis:
Yeah, that's interesting. Well, I heard that originally her show name, because it is a show name, her actual real name is Loretta Mary Aiken. So she came up with Jackie Mabley from an ex-boyfriend, from what I read anyways. This is the interesting thing about her is that so much of her history is just legend. She was doing it for so long and started so young. So much of her story is legend that we don't even know how much of it's true, but I had read that it was Jack Mabley was a first boyfriend and just sort of out of revenge she took his name as a stage name.

Dave Schwensen:
I read this too. She said he took so much from her, the least she could do is just take the name from him.

Kelly Thewlis:
Yeah, she took this leg out of revenge and then somewhere along in her act she became Moms, earned that nickname.

Dave Schwensen:
Well, I want to talk about her background. She came up in what they call the Chitlin' Circuit. Now, it's hard to imagine that today. It really is. I mean, the amount of segregation and the differences between the whites and the blacks, especially in the South that was going on when Moms Mabley was starting her career. And she started in the 1920s. So they even had an entire touring circuit that was just whites only and the other was for blacks only and the black was called the Chitlin' Circuit. She came up through that and it was hardcore, rough living standards, theaters, the dressing rooms, the travel, everything was pretty bad. She was known for nurturing a lot of the younger performers and she got the name Moms.

Kelly Thewlis:
What's interesting too is that she actually ran away to that life. Her life before that was so hard that she ran away to this very difficult life on this vaudeville circuit. So she was 14 when she left home-

Dave Schwensen:
Yeah. North Carolina.

Kelly Thewlis:
North Carolina. Yeah. And her father had died. He was a firefighter and he had died when the fire engine exploded. Then just a year or two after that, her mother was hit by a truck on Christmas day and passed away. She was like one of... We're not even sure we were looking it up 12, 16, 11. Nobody's really sure.

Dave Schwensen:
I've read so many different siblings that she had, the numbers, it's very... They didn't keep good records. Nobody knows for sure.

Kelly Thewlis:
Nobody really knows.

Dave Schwensen:
And was she the oldest? Was she in the middle somewhere? We don't know.

Kelly Thewlis:
They definitely did not. And so she had this very troubling childhood. So then at 14 she moved to Cleveland and joined the-

Dave Schwensen:
The hot bed of show business.

Kelly Thewlis:
Yeah. And it still is today. Isn't it?

Dave Schwensen:
It is. It is. We'll call it that.

Kelly Thewlis:
So, yeah, she just went out there and that's when she started performing in the circuit and she had a very mind your own business attitude when it came to press. She just sort of her act was her act and offstage she kept a private life and so it's like I said, she's a legend. Her offstage life is just a legend because no one's really certain.

Dave Schwensen:
Well, let's listen to some more Moms Mabley and come back and put the clues together if we can to see if we can learn more about her after this.

Moms Mabley:
(Comedy Clip)She said, "Hey, super. Send me some steam. You're the latest man I better seen. Put on that bottle and do what you ought to. How could I take a bath when I ain't got no hot water? Listen, super. Or do you want me to call you Joe? Whether it's dash 20 below. I'm so mad at you that I can scream. Super, send up some damn steam. Because yesterday you lied and said the heat was on its way but I haven't heard a hiss out of that radiator today. Because I've been cold since yesterday."

Moms Mabley:
(Comedy Clip) She said, "Go away! I don't want to hear a thing you've got to say." She said, "I know damn well you ain't looking for no rent today. Not after what you called me yesterday. Oh, what do you care if I cough or I sneeze? I wouldn't give you another damn dime if you fell on your knees. I've got to have heat. Mister Lindsey, you promised me heat. I don't care what they say but if my rent I'm going to pay. I've got to have heat! Heat! Heat! Heat!"

Dave Schwensen:
We're listening to Moms Mabley Live at Sing Sing. You know Moms did a lot with music.

Kelly Thewlis:
That's right. I mean that comes from her vaudeville days from where she started out.

Dave Schwensen:
Yeah. We'd mentioned that she'd run away from North Carolina where her just life was just horrible. I mean she ran to Cleveland to get into show business.

Kelly Thewlis:
Yeah, and that's where she met Butterbeans and Susie, they were this duo act and they sort of took her under their wing. They had a hit song at the time it was, I am butchering the title, but it was something along the lines of Put a Hot Dog in My Bun. It was like-

Dave Schwensen:
That was a very raunchy song. I know what you're referring to.

Kelly Thewlis:
It was a very raunchy song to song and it was their hit, but it was just a complete double entendre and that's where she sort of got her raunchiness style and also her musical style.

Dave Schwensen:
Yes. But she was doing some singing and dancing and some comedy in between and it really took over being a comedian, more of a standup comedian with music in her act. It's funny, the old, I call it vaudeville, but it really was the Chitlin' Circuit. It was for the black artists that she met, Butterbean and Susie?

Kelly Thewlis:
Butterbeans and Susie.

Dave Schwensen:
It used to be, here's a piece of history for you, it used to be Stringbean and Susie and an artist by the name of Stringbean who died in the early 1920s, I think. An agent just took his act and gave it to this other guy and said, "Here from now on your Butterbean, she's Susie and you do his act."

Kelly Thewlis:
Wow.

Dave Schwensen:
That's what they did. But they saw Moms Mabley performing and said she was too good to be playing some of those smaller, really bad theaters she was doing. So they took her over and they hooked her up with an agency. It's called T.O.B.A., which is the Theater Owners Booking Association.

Kelly Thewlis:
Oh wow!

Dave Schwensen:
Primarily a black-owned and black talent booking agency. They did take her into the bigger theaters. They got her all the way up to like $90 a week.

Kelly Thewlis:
It's kind of that story of how really comedy it's such a community and everybody helps each other out. That's what's sort of the nice thing about that story.

Dave Schwensen:
Yes.

Kelly Thewlis:
I think it's still very much like that today.

Dave Schwensen:
Yes.

Kelly Thewlis:
Another interesting thing we can take away from that clip is that even though she was this old woman and like we said she dressed up in these, she didn't have her teeth in, she had these like frumpy house dresses and a bucket hat and just sort of looked like an old woman. She really related to the youth and you could hear that in the songs she parodies just doing The Beatles. And yeah, she really related to them.

Dave Schwensen:
Well, her style was she always wanted a young man.

Kelly Thewlis:
Yes. Yeah. Always.

Dave Schwensen:
That was part of her hook in her act. It was always about the young men she wanted. I think her famous line was, " No old man can do anything good for her except to bring her a note from a young man." I'm paraphrasing. It something along those lines.

Kelly Thewlis:
Something along the lines. Actually, that really brings us right into our next clip because she is the dirty old woman in this next segment she talks about.

Dave Schwensen:
Well, let's take a listen. Moms Mabley Live at Sing Sing.

Moms Mabley:
(Comedy Clip) I don't like no old men. I'm going with Tom Jones now. Yeah I know he's white but I ain't got time to look for no damn color. All right? When you get as old as Mom is you glad to get [inaudible 00:18:14] as you can. That old man like to run me crazy too. I don't want nothing old except for some old money and I'm going to use it to put an ad in the paper for some young man. Old men don't know how to do nothing. There ain't nothing for him to do but be old. My old man was sitting on a tree this summer and a leaf fell on him and knocked him out. He got up on the scales to weigh and the scales didn't move.

Moms Mabley:
(Comedy Clip)"Come sing to me," he said, "Baby." I said, "Don't keep calling me baby. You know my name." He said, "Now there you go." He said, "Come on let's sit down and talk things over." I said, "You're going to do more than talk honey. To get me to believe because I don't believe nothing you say." He said, "Well come on. Sit down. Sit down." I sat him down and then I sit down. He looked at me and said, "Now kill me. Just kill me. Where are you going to find..." He said, " You tell me where you going to find another man like me?" I said, "In the graveyard." He said, "What man can you find that'll treat you like I do?" I said, "Hitler." He said, "If I should die what would you do?" I said, "Laugh." He said, "Well, I ain't going to argue with you. I'm going upstairs and going to bed." I said, "Well, you have to wait a while because I'm tired I don't feel like carrying you up the steps [crosstalk 00:21:24]."

Dave Schwensen:
Well, Moms Mabley now she was billed for a while as the funniest woman in the world.

Kelly Thewlis:
I believe it.

Dave Schwensen:
Yeah. A long career before she ever became what we called mainstream, where a lot of the rest of America or her listeners find out who she was.

Kelly Thewlis:
Right. She started, like you said before, she started in the 1920s but it wasn't till the 1960s that she took off as being a household name.

Dave Schwensen:
She was the first black female stand up comedian again back in vaudeville and the Chitlin' Circuit. They had comedy teams where women were part of the teams or whatever but she was the first one to stand on the stage by herself and tell these jokes. Matter of fact, she was the first woman on stage by herself at the Apollo Theater in New York.

Kelly Thewlis:
That's right! 1939. That was the time too where The Apollo shows, I mean it was like five shows a day or something like that. It was hard work. And she was out there doing that. Then I think the first woman to play Carnegie Hall also.

Dave Schwensen:
That's interesting because that was like in the very early 60s. I think we saw that was 1962. Yes. She really broke through with appearances in the 1960s on the Merv Griffin Show.

Kelly Thewlis:
Ed Sullivan.

Dave Schwensen:
Ed Sullivan, The Smothers Brothers. And she was already an older woman by that time.

Kelly Thewlis:
Again, nobody really knows how old though. Secret lives on, no one's sure. Yeah, she was at that time but she did a lot of impressive work and like you said before, a lot of material that has just influenced so many comedy acts.

Dave Schwensen:
Right. Well, Whoopi Goldberg did an HBO special I think in 2013 it was.

Kelly Thewlis:
She made a documentary about her

Dave Schwensen:
Documentary about Moms Mabley. They look at her as an influence. I mean she came out and she could speak her mind, but you listen to her act she's talking about real things. Turn on the heat, give me some steam up here.

Kelly Thewlis:
[crosstalk 00:23:20]

Dave Schwensen:
Yes. And it was real things that she made it funny.

Kelly Thewlis:
Yeah. Made it relatable to everybody, even these like I said she's doing this album in a maximum-security prison and I love the joke where she just says, "I've never felt safer." In this maximum-security prison because it's so hard outside.

Dave Schwensen:
And how many decades ago was that, that she recorded this? We think-

Kelly Thewlis:
Like 1970s.

Dave Schwensen:
Yeah. Well, we think she recorded sometime in the late 1960s we're guessing 1969. That's the thing about Moms Mabley is some of these records that go back again we don't know how many siblings she had. We don't really know that much. And when did she record these? This album came out. She won, she had a gold record, I think on Chess Records. Chess was the record company of all those great blues artists, early rock and roll artists out of Chicago, real innovators. Here she was a black woman on Chess Records and it sold enough copies, she got a gold album. So then she moved on to a bigger record company, Mercury Records, which is what this album, Live at Sing Sing is on that label but before that, she was recording her own albums to be sold at her shows. I guess when you call them party albums, that's what the parents in those days would listen to. They put the kids to bed and they'd have a party downstairs with their cocktails and their cigarettes and-

Kelly Thewlis:
Play the album and everyone's just sort of listening and talking and just sort of had it on. She had like 20 albums.

Dave Schwensen:
Yes.

Kelly Thewlis:
I mean she really, really was working hard for decades.

Dave Schwensen:
Yes, and they were adult topics.

Kelly Thewlis:
One of the things that's so interesting is again her double entendres, her raunchiness for that time. It was especially strange to see this old woman just really talking about issues that you just wouldn't expect. You see this old kind of church lady looking woman up there talking about some really serious topics.

Dave Schwensen:
Somebody's grandmother.

Kelly Thewlis:
Yeah, someone's grandma up there hitting on younger men and such. In this next clip, she's going to... The subject is adultery.

Dave Schwensen:
Well. Okay. Well, let's just get into that without any more being said. So, from Moms Mableys' album Live at Sing Sing. We're just going to talk about having an affair

Moms Mabley:
(Comedy Clip) I don't drink because the pain. I don't drink and it was the absent-minded professor on there be couldn't think of nothing. Couldn't remember nothing. So, he had a little black book and he had everything wrote down in the little black book, so he's checking up on the train. "Hey, driver," professor says, "Have you ever been to Pittsburgh?" He said, "Pittsburgh. Pittsburgh." He said, "Yes. I've been to Pittsburgh." He said, "Did you happen to meet a woman by the name of Lena Smith in Pittsburgh?" He said, "Smith. Smith. Smith." Took out his book. "Yes. I remember I met a woman by the name of Lena Smith in Pittsburgh." He says, "Did you have an affair with a woman in Pittsburgh named Lena Smith?" He said, "Affairs. Affairs. Yes, I had an affair with a woman in Pittsburgh named Lena Smith." He said, "Well, I'm Mr. Smith and I don't like it." He said, "Opinions. Opinions." He said, "I didn't either."

Kelly Thewlis:
There she was Moms Mabley Live at Sing Sing.

Dave Schwensen:
Moms Mabley Live at Sing Sing.

Kelly Thewlis:
I think what's interesting, again, we are just listening to it, but you can hear it in her voice, the stage presence she has. She really has a strong stage presence. She's really having fun on there, on stage, enjoying her work and it really translates through. I think it's interesting too, we kind of touched upon this before, but she was different offstage. She dressed as this Moms character, but then offstage she wore custom men's suits.

Dave Schwensen:
Yes.

Kelly Thewlis:
Yeah. She's known for talking about hitting on younger men as we just listened to in that clip, it was all about younger men and the truth was she was a lesbian.

Dave Schwensen:
You know, that's quite a life you think about it because she also had children. Now her stepfather forced her to marry an older man so we're guessing maybe that's where these children came from but if you see photos of Moms Mabley offstage and we're talking about the 1930s, 1940s, 1950s. She's dressing like a man with the, yes, the custom made suits and the short hair and she definitely had her teeth in.

Kelly Thewlis:
Yeah, absolutely.

Dave Schwensen:
I mean she was very private offstage.

Kelly Thewlis:
Offstage but what it seems from the research that I had, it wasn't like she was lying to people. It was just that Moms Mabley was a character that she did onstage and offstage she was Loretta. She had her own life.

Dave Schwensen:
And she was very private about it. She didn't go out and do a lot of crazy things, right?

Kelly Thewlis:
Yeah.

Dave Schwensen:
She had her family.

Kelly Thewlis:
She was accepted though. That's what it also seemed it wasn't some sort of lie amongst her other co-performers or anything. She was just accepted and there wasn't, I don't know, there wasn't any drama, there wasn't anything...

Dave Schwensen:
She was accepted, she was respected.

Kelly Thewlis:
Yes! Very, very respected.

Dave Schwensen:
And again with the name Moms, they did rely on her. She was someone who was there for them. She had that reputation. She did not give herself the name Moms to be an old woman. That's what they were calling her and then her audience became Moms' children.

Kelly Thewlis:
Children. Yeah. Just a beautiful person all around.

Dave Schwensen:
So do we have another clip we can listen to? To get some more Moms Mabley in here.

Kelly Thewlis:
In this next clip, we're going to see a little more influence of her vaudeville days. I mean she did say that she was just an everything performer. She could do everything and she talked about her work ethic and how hard she worked. She said that she was ready to do anything you needed in the entertainment world.

Dave Schwensen:
I'm glad you brought that up because one thing I want to point out too that I read some interview with her that she said a lot of the younger comics that were coming up at that time thought they were going to be overnight successes. They would have one joke or one bit that they thought that's it, it's their big bit's going to make them famous forever but she said they didn't have the work ethic. They didn't have the stage experience. I mean she performed thousands of shows and she knew how to work an audience. She knew to give that look, a glance, a pause, the delivery, the timing, everything. She had it down perfect.

Kelly Thewlis:
She had it down so much that, I mean, like you said, she was the queen of the party albums, her stage presence, it translates into her albums. You can just listen like we are here today and still get the humor of it without actually seeing her and I'm sure the same could be said if we were just watching her without any sound. You would still find it funny because she had such a remarkable presence, but yet in this next clip she's going to be doing some opera.

Dave Schwensen:
Yeah, she traveled with her band.

Kelly Thewlis:
Yes.

Dave Schwensen:
I think Luther was her piano player, but you can hear a guitar player, a drummer. She traveled, I read that also, they traveled as a group and she had a lot of music in her act. So, let's listen to the opera from her Live at Sing Sing album.

Moms Mabley:
(Comedy Clip) Luther. The opera! Now, wait a minute Luther. Wait a minute Luther. Wait a minute. Wait a minute Luther! I don't know what's the matter with that boy. I don't know Luther. I think he's sick. Yeah. He's sick. Luther, I want you to play an opera like you're playing for a real opera star. These children all know opera. I want you to play like you play for one of them big opera stars like little Stevie Wonder and one of them opera stars.

Moms Mabley:
(Comedy Clip) The old man's opera. I wrote strictly for him. You're just too old to be true. There's nothing weaker than you. I have to grab you and shake just to keep you awake. There's nothing more I can do. You're just too far gone to be true. "Dedede," the way he mumbled when he walk, the way he stumbled when he walk. They way he tripped on every crack. The [inaudible 00:32:27] growing on his back. The way he didn't have a tooth. The lies he told about his youth. The way he snored when he's in bed, that's when I put one upside his head. His bald broke when he fell down. He stepped in looking like a clown. The way the wine flow through that ... The way he screamed I hope its blood. The way his screams filled the room, that's when I hit him with the broom. Remembering all those stupid things all of a sudden my heart sang. You're just too weak to be true. I'm sorry I ever met you. Why don't you give me a break? And just go jump in the lake. I just can't put up with you. You're just too sad to be true. My old man, there's nothing that he's weaker than. If you want a sexy friend you better not depend on my old man.

Dave Schwensen:
Okay. That was Moms Mabley doing her opera for the prisoners at Sing Sing.

Kelly Thewlis:
Yeah. Opera stars just like Stevie Wonder.

Dave Schwensen:
Yes, exactly. She was a woman of the times too. This was recorded in the late 60s. I think it came out in 1970 but even after her career and everything she went through beginning in the 1920s, 30s, 40s, 50s. I mean she was right there as I mentioned before with Dick Gregory. But even with the Civil Rights going on in 60s I mean the segregation that she experienced and then the fight for equality. But John F. Kennedy when he was president in the early 60s actually invited her to the White House.

Kelly Thewlis:
Yeah. She had such a strong presence back then. That's so cool.

Dave Schwensen:
She released an album I think in 1966 Moms Mabley at the White House Conference. So even though she wasn't known for being very political or anything, she made her presence known. I mean, she was a black woman who was in charge of her life and what she was doing and it was the fight of the 60s.

Kelly Thewlis:
Yeah. Actually, there's a great quote from her where she says, "The good old days I was there. Where were they?" Yeah. She does go on in another interview where she says, "The good old days, people talk about them, but really this is the best time. We can love who we want to love. We've got freedoms. This is the best time is now." Of course she was talking about 1970 but I think she'd be really impressed to see how far we've come even since then.

Dave Schwensen:
She was a black woman making it in this still a segregated world and seeing how progressive we were at that time. Her career really took off for her late in life. She became a movie star.

Kelly Thewlis:
That's right around the same time that this album came out, I believe. I got to check on that date but she had her first starring role in the movie Amazing Grace.

Dave Schwensen:
She had done some smaller roles back in the 1930s and-

Kelly Thewlis:
Again, she just did everything. She did a little of... ready for any part of entertainment.

Dave Schwensen:
But I want to say it was in the very early 1970, 72, 73 she was Grace in a movie, Amazing Grace. Yeah. She was all over television, the talk show, she was very, very popular Moms Mabley but then she passed away in 1975.

Kelly Thewlis:
Again, nobody really knows how old she was at that point. Some say 78, some were saying 81 no one's really sure, but they do say it was natural causes.

Dave Schwensen:
Yes, but she left a lasting impression. Like I said, all the comedians that came after her they were influenced. Again, I'll talk about Eddie Murphy, I'll talk about Chris Rock, Richard Pryor, Whoopi Goldberg. Last summer there was a big fire at Universal Studios in California in 2008 where they lost a lot of original material recordings for a lot of rock and roll stars, opera stars, Broadway musicals, and everything. And just as they were going through this, I think it was released last June that Moms Mabley, her material, her original recordings were destroyed in that fire.

Kelly Thewlis:
Oh, no! Wow!

Dave Schwensen:
We have this, of course we're listening to it today, but...

Kelly Thewlis:
So much of that original material-

Dave Schwensen:
Yes, it's been lost.

Kelly Thewlis:
Wow. Well I mean and again, so much of her actual history has just been lost. It's [crosstalk 00:37:21].

Dave Schwensen:
But comedy fans and the comedians who understand the influences and enjoy the history of comedy, they all know who Moms Mabley is and she's going to live on that way. So Moms Mabley was our subject today. Kelly, I really enjoyed doing this show.

Kelly Thewlis:
I did too. I really enjoyed looking into this, just an epic part of comedy history. She is just such an influence on so many things and so little is known about her that I really enjoyed putting the detective hat on and researching her and learning more.

Dave Schwensen:
All right, well, I guess it's time for us to get out of here. So do you want to say anything else?

Kelly Thewlis:
I guess thank you for listening and thank you, Dave. It's been fun.

Dave Schwensen:
And you're Kelly Thewlis.

Kelly Thewlis:
Yeah. We'll see you next time.

Dave Schwensen:
And I'm Dave Schwensen. Keep laughing.

Speaker 1:
You've been listening to, What's So Funny! Catch us next week with Logan Rashad when we find out just what's inside Shelley Berman. Special thanks to executive producers, Joan Andrews and Michael DeAloia; producer, Sarah Willgrube and audio engineer Eric Koltnow.

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